Austin Aries is making the most of his second run in TNA Impact Wrestling.
He has climbed his way to the top, competing in the main event against world champion Bobby Roode on Sunday, July 8 at the TNA Destination X pay-per-view from Universal Studios Orlando.
The longest reigning X Division champion in history returned to the company a year ago with a renewed passion for the business.
“I think right before I came back to TNA, I kind of made a decision to step away from wrestling,” Aries said during a recent conference call. “I think coming to that decision helped me gain some perspective, and when this new opportunity presented itself, I really walked into it holding nothing back. I really put all I had into it and let the chips fall where they may. I think everything comes down to the right opportunity at the right time.
The Austin Aries who left the promotion in 2007 is not the same one who returned in 2011.
“Comparing my two runs with TNA, maybe the first time around the timing wasn’t right or the opportunities weren’t quite what I was hoping for,” Aries said. “On the second time around they gave me some rope either to climb the ladder or hang myself. So far I’ve been climbing…
“Honestly when I walked in, I didn’t have any expectations. I just knew I had opportunity and took it one step at a time. What I did try to have this time around was patience and let my work speak for itself. Let the opportunities present themselves and then take advantage of them. I don’t think I would have foreseen myself being in this situation after a year in the company, but I’ve always been confident in my abilities and appreciate the opportunity to prove my talent and that I belong at the top of the card.”
Interesting enough, before his latest stint in TNA began, he had auditioned for the newest season of WWE’s reality competition “Tough Enough.” He wasn’t chosen, but if his success is any indication, everything happens for a reason.
“It was basically an audition for a television show,” Aries said. “People kind of want to [make more if it] more than it is, but I was dealing with a talent agency. I wasn’t dealing directly with the company itself and the decisions that were made were made through them. I’ve done other stuff outside of wrestling where I’ve gone to auditions for different roles and parts and didn’t get them. It has nothing to do with acumen as an actor or, in this case, as a wrestler, but more or less what they are looking for to fill those roles.
“It was one of those situations where I was asked if I wanted to throw my hat in the ring. I had really nothing to lose, but it certainly wasn’t something I was pinning my hopes on or that devastated me. Anyone who is an actor in the entertainment business, you go out for a lot of different roles. Sometimes you get the part, and sometimes you don’t.”
When the call from TNA came, Aries was ready.
“You don’t always get second chances,” Aries said. “I thought it would have been nice to just go back and see the opportunity that was there. At the very least, I would leave things on a better note. Honestly, at that point, it was a great opportunity and a payday. I figured I had nothing going on that week, so why not? I had nothing to lose.”
It’s been a meteoric rise for the self-proclaimed “Greatest Man That Ever Lived,” ever since he signed a new contract. With every passing week, Aries proved himself to be one of most entertaining performers on the microphone and in the ring. The fans began to get behind the breakout star because he not only could talk the talk, but back it up when the bell sounded.
“I can be a polarizing figure,” Aries said. “It has been something said about me over time, which means I garner a reaction. At the end of the day, that is what we want, whether it is a positive or negative reaction. If people are indifferent, they are probably not too willing to see you perform. Everything is how you structure things and where you kind of point your ire at. Right now, facing a guy like Bobby Roode who is universally disliked by the fan base makes it easier to get behind me, just like it was against a guy like Bully Ray.”
Aries says he thoroughly enjoyed working with Bully Ray, which was a sort of a David and Goliath situation.
“I knew it was going to be a physical test. I knew it was going to be a mental test, and I like to think I passed both of those,” he said. “Bully Ray isn’t one of those guys who blows a lot of smoke up your a--. He will tell you exactly how it is, whether you like it or don’t like it. One thing you know is you will get an honest opinion. So it was important to me to go into that match, more than anything else, that when we walked out of that match that he had respect for me. I’d like to think that he did. I thought we had a great match. It was physical. I think we both pushed each other a little bit, and the result was very entertaining on all accounts.”
In less than a month of arriving on the scene, Aries found himself the X Division champion. Since then, he has battled all challengers, and in the process, brought the gold back to prominence.
“I think not everybody is equipped to be a titleholder or a champion,” Aries said. “ I like to think whatever belt I held throughout my career, I’ve carried professionally and with a certain amount of respect that people can look at it and say, ‘Well, all right, this title belt has worth. It means something.’ I had some issues with belts that I’ve held from the people who have held them before me, but what you go out there and do is put your best foot forward. You try to make sure every time you walk out that people feel like they are seeing the main event.
“Hopefully, we are going to do that again on July 8th at Destination X with Bobby Roode. I’m looking forward to the opportunity to be in the main event against the world heavyweight champion. I think that belt has a lot of worth right now. It should be a great match. Hopefully, the best man wins.”
Aside from signing his second TNA contract and winning the X Division championship, Aries believes fighting Rood will be atop his highlights in the promotion. It has taken Aries almost 12 years to get where he is today, working everywhere from Ring of Honor to Dragon Gate USA. He believes all of the ups and downs have prepared him for whatever comes his way.
“The guys who are the most successful tend to be the guys who have honed their craft in a lot of different places,” Aries said. “I think there is a certain experience level that you are only going to get from working the indie scene or working different styles of wrestling in front of different types of crowds in different places. It’s very hard to learn in a bubble and be put through all of the different situations that you can be put in once you reached a certain level.
“For all the different experiences that I’ve had and places I’ve got to wrestle with guys who have different styles and philosophies to working with the promoters and the way they want to run their companies, I think all the bits and pieces of it can accumulate a wider range of knowledge for the business. I think if you look at the guys right now at the top of their companies, they all have similar backgrounds.”
The time in the business and hard work has also allowed Aries to appreciate the spotlight, which includes standing in the ring with likes of Hulk Hogan.
“It can be surreal at times if you let it,” Aries said.
“If you let that inner child out and think about it. I mentioned to a friend last week that my 10-year-old self would be giddy at the fact that Hulk Hogan is telling me how great I am in the middle of a wrestling ring. If you told me that when I was reading the news magazines at the grocery store when I was 10, I wouldn’t have believed it. Obviously guys like Sting and Hulk Hogan and Kurt Angle have accomplished so much in this business. They are so well respected that when you get compliments from them, it holds more weight than when it comes from a lot of other people.
His past run in TNA was also part of his journey to the top. His standout moments during that period was as Austin Starr, a member of Paparazzi Productions working with Kevin Nash.
“I have nothing but fond memories of Kevin the whole time we did the whole Paparazzi Production thing, and I was associated with him,” Aries said.
“I think Kevin is a great guy. I think he is very smart businesswise to what we do. I felt nothing but positive vibes from him. Honestly, I look back and a lot of the guys who were doing it with me at the same time would agree that those Paparazzi Production skits were some of the most fun I had doing wrestling.
“It was really just a bunch of guys going out and creating moments and having a good time playing off each other. I think Kevin was a big part of that. I think there was always the perception that he didn’t like smaller guys or used certain situations to better himself only, but I never got the sense of that. There were a couple of situations where he had our back and wanted to make sure that we were all doing the best we could, and the company was doing the best they could for us.”
Aries is doing the best he can for the X Division. He is proud of all he has accomplished as its champion.
“It’s crazy when I think about how long I’ve had this thing,” Aries said.
“Unfortunately, because of some injuries and some departures, I don’t think we have had the numbers in the X Division that we had hoped to have as far as more competition for me. I think that is something that is going to change, which means the future X Division champions are going to have a hard time keeping the belt as long.”
Instead of just handing over the X Division title for a world championship shot or refusing the crack at Roode to keep his gold, Aries gave general manager Hogan the idea of an “Option C.” He would relinquish the championship if whoever is the X Division champion during Destination X gets the same opportunity. This in effect makes the title worth increase more than ever.
“Now with the ‘Option C’ that I put out there, this belt is going to be a hot commodity right around Destination X,” Aries said.
“Everyone is going to be gunning for this belt, so it’s going to have even more importance. I think it’s going to be harder to keep it around people’s waist…
“It does give me some bragging rights that nobody has beaten me for the championship, and I relinquished it. It is something that is quite rare. When the opportunity was presented to me like getting to wrestle Bobby Roode at Destination X…As far as being the longest reigning X Division champion, it is pretty remarkable in some ways when you think about it because of all the men who have held the title over the years.
“The competition of the X Division and where you had a lot of top caliber superstars and wrestlers in the division that made it more competitive. The time I came into the company they were kind of rebooting the X Division and injecting new blood so to speak. I think I came at a time where it didn’t have the top competition it had historically…Some of the guys who I have faced I would have liked to do more with. Some of the guys who I would have liked to get in there with were injured or weren’t here. So hopefully, I’ll be able to get in the ring with them and prove my worth against them as well…It’s really time to step out and step up.”
Considering what is on the horizon, it seems Aries is doing just that.
• Austin Aries challenges Bobby Roode for the X Division championship 8 p.m. [EST] Sunday, July 8 at the Destination X pay-per-view at Universal Studios Orlando.
AJ Styles squares off with Christopher Daniels, and Kurt Angle faces Samoa Joe in a Bound For Glory Series match.
The event will also include a tournament final Ultimate X match to crown a new X Division champion.
• Follow Austin Aries on Twitter @AustinAries.
• Follow me on Twitter @smFISHMAN, http://twitter.com/#!/smFISHMAN, where I post links and information. Opinions expressed reflect no other entity. I can also be found tweeting incessantly during wrestling shows weekly.